Extraordinary Osaka

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Our life in Osaka was a funny mix of normal and amazing. We established an easy routine and were very comfortable in our small Airbnb apartment. We had perfect late spring weather throughout our stay and made a lot of time for activities – so much so that we left Osaka a little tired and slightly touristed out. But there is so much to do in the Kansai region (which includes the three large cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe) that even with our extra effort at sightseeing we left a lot undone and have a strong desire to go back. Here are some of our favorite parts of our life in Osaka:

Nara Park

Nara Park was the freebie Christmas gift that Chad and I gave to each other (you can read our holiday tradition here) and I think the highlight of our whole trip to Asia. It is a large beautiful park with temples that is full of tame deer that bow to you in the hope of getting a cracker. Yes, tame deer that bow! We loved exchanging bows with and feeding the deer. Nara was really easy to get to from our neighborhood on the Kintetsu line. We picked up a Subway sandwich to split from our station (throwback to lots of park days back home!) so we broke up our time at Nara with a picnic (in a deer-free part of the park). Plenty of photos tell the story.

Day Trips to Kyoto

Chad and I had originally thought to base ourselves in Kyoto, as it is the second most popular Japan destination and struck us as more charming with its many temples, parks, and shrines than its near neighbor, Osaka. However, when we went to book our Airbnb, we found we couldn’t afford Kyoto (which proved to be a lucky break for us, since we loved having our home-base in Osaka). We managed to make two day trips to Kyoto via very easy train rides and really enjoyed ourselves both times.

The first day trip we focused on the eastern part of Kyoto, starting with Higashiyama Jisho-ji Temple, a 15th century temple that is one of the most popular in Kyoto. You could tell it is a popular tourist attraction by all the souvenir vendors lining the road up to it – we knew right away we weren’t in Osaka anymore! The temple was pretty but crowded, but we managed to get some nice photos. Then we followed the Philosopher’s Way path to Eikando Temple. It was a lovely creek-side walk that we really enjoyed. We decided to skip the temple, which looked as crowded as Higashiyama, and found a grocery store to pick up bento trays for lunch, which we enjoyed in a park. Then we took the bus to Kiyomizu-dera, another really nice temple with lovely grounds to explore.

yakatori!

We ended the day in a primary restaurant district of Kyoto, called Pontocho Alley, and stopped for a couple of beers to build our appetite and then had an awesome meal at one of the many yakitori restaurants in that area. Yakitori is a type of Japanese grilled food served on skewers and it is really fun to eat. The restaurant we chose, which was only listed under a Japanese name on Google that translates to “Yakitori’s prestigious Akiyoshi Kawaramachi store,” was a little off the beaten path and seemed to have fewer western tourists.

Our second day trip to Kyoto began at Iwatayama Monkey Park. We took an early train up to get there just as it opened, which allowed us to make the long climb up the hill to the monkeys before the heat of the day. Though we weren’t at the front of the line to get in, we were one of the first to the top and went right away to the building where you can feed the monkeys. We bought peanuts and cut-up bananas and apples and had a fantastic time feeding the monkeys, many of which were mamas holding their babies. The park also features a very nice view over Kyoto. After the park we walked along the Katsura River and then over to the Kameyama Park Bamboo Forest. We then took the bus a bit east and had a conveyor belt sushi lunch at what became our favorite chain, Kura, and had time for one last crowded temple, Ryoanji Temple, before taking the train back home. It was definitely easy to visit Kyoto from Osaka and I feel like between the two day trips we managed most of the highlights.

Hanshin Tigers Baseball

Attending a baseball game was one of our must-do activities for Japan, because it is such a popular sport. We chose one of the most popular teams for our game and the experience did not disappoint! Buying tickets online was very easy and following the advice of a couple of blogs we choose to sit with the dedicated fans in “light field” (it’s very common in Japan to see mix-ups of “r” and “l” in translations, even on the websites of professional sports teams). Your purchase comes as a QR code that you use to get your tickets from one of the many automated machines at the stadium. We happened to choose a game at which they were doing a “beerfest” promotion, so we enjoyed hanging out outside the stadium for a bit over a couple of beers. As we were heading in, I noticed people stopping at a table just inside security to have cans of beer poured into paper cups and inferred that we could buy a couple of cheap beers at the 7-Eleven to bring into the game. You’d never see that in an American stadium.

The game itself was as fun and exciting as we’d hoped, though Hanshin wasn’t having a great season and ended up losing. But sitting with the fans who sang and chanted for every Hanshin at-bat was unforgettable. We learned the songs as best we could to sing along and overall had a fantastic time. We also had a chance to try some of the vendors in the stadium for both food and highballs. If you like live sports, I highly recommend attending a Japanese baseball game. We definitely hope to go again next time we’re in Japan.

Singing Karaoke in Shinsekai

The famous traditional neighborhood in Osaka is called Shinsekai and it was just due south for us from our neighborhood, accessed by an easy metro ride to the Tennoji station. We went out in Shinsekai several times and it was always a blast. The first was for Chad’s birthday and our one-year travel-versary. We fell in love with the covered streets, tiny shops and bars, and had our first experience with an alcoholic vending machine. We also found cheap highballs that we could wander around with and delicious ramen.

The second time we were just looking for a fun night out and built up our courage to visit one of the many (like dozens at least) hole-in-the-wall karaoke bars we’d noticed on our first visit. We chose a lively one with just a couple of open seats and were warmly welcomed by the locals in the bar. These karaoke bars are different than you see in movies: there’s no stage, but rather everyone sits around the l-shaped bar (which is more like a counter) and signs from their seat (though the pro’s stand). There’s also a scoring system and you can earn a free drink if you match the words and rhythm well enough for the computer algorithm. Though everyone else sang in Japanese, the bar had English songs too and we were strongly encouraged to participate. After a beer a piece we finally did, singing Ring of Fire, though not well enough to earn a drink (I blame Chad). Then we were asked to sing Let It Be with one of the other patrons and thanks to his great singing and timing we got a great score.

But it was time to move on to dinner in the neighborhood at the #1-rated Osaka restaurant on TripAdvisor, Yakumido, which just serves two types of Japanese curry. We enjoyed our meal a lot and just overall had a great night out. This was followed up with a couple of other nights out in the area, including our last night in Japan, when we were able to take advantage of the nearby luggage storage in the Kintetsu Department Store and caught our train to the airport from Tennoji Station. I think Shinsekai was our favorite part of Osaka.

Our Normal Life/Meals

I think what was most magical about Osaka was how comfortable and at-home we felt through our whole stay. One of the things that made Osaka feel especially normal is that Chad identified a person there to interview for his new film, so we spent a lot of time doing movie stuff. Being able to pull off a professional documentary interview on the fly meant a lot of orders to Amazon Japan, but of course in Japan this is very easy, and you can even have next day delivery to your local Family Mart. So convenient. I also had plenty of activity for my work, so plenty of late nights and early mornings for phone calls. Our neighborhood was quite nice for morning walks and a couple of times we even walked all the way to Osaka Castle.

And, so much delicious fresh fish! Chad is expert at sautéing up a nice piece of fish, so the nights we ate in were really tasty (and al fresco because our apartment had a little balcony). We adapted our three nights out routine to match the higher prices in Japan, and instead of having our third night out each week did in-home sushi and sake, both of which were very affordable at the grocery store. Japan was definitely more expensive than any place we’d been before, but we’d budgeted for that and also made some cost-effective choices, like eating ramen noodle bowls every other day for lunch.

Summary

We really loved our time in Osaka and Japan is now our absolute favorite country. One event on our radar is the World Expo in 2025, which will be held in Osaka. But we hope to be back in the meantime, ideally to experience the cherry blossoms (and to see the Japanese Macaque monkeys in the winter!).

Airbnb Review

I can’t say enough good things about Hiro and this apartment. My husband and I had a wonderful 4-week stay. We had originally planned to stay in Kyoto, but I am so happy we found this Airbnb in Osaka instead. Kyoto was easy to get to from here for day trips to see the sights, but Osaka felt like home. The apartment was ideal for us – good size, nice layout and furnishings, and the kitchen has everything you need to do light cooking. We loved having the balcony and the nice breeze through the screen door. The location is perfect with a metro stop around the corner that connects to east-west and north-south lines and a short walk to Uehommachi Station where you can get the train to Nara (and other places; also the best grocery stores were by Uehommachi). The apartment is an easy walk to the Dotonbori area and Namba if you want the bright lights, shopping and lots of food options. Or, Shinsekai and Tennoji Station are just a couple of metro stops away. We even walked a couple of times to Osaka Castle! Internet was fast and consistent enough for us. Hiro was a great host with lots of suggestions and made sure we had everything we needed. We had a great experience in this Airbnb.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/13365025?source_impression_id=p3_1562587919_Ivb9txy4avbgnIx5

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